New Jersey residents hoping to buy marijuana at a dispensary without a medical card will have to wait a little longer.
New Jersey cannabis regulators approved the first batch of businesses that will make up the state’s adult-use cannabis industry on Thursday, a cohort of 68 marijuana growers and manufacturers. But officials decided that the state’s medical marijuana companies are not quite ready to start selling their wares to the general public.
Growers and manufacturers were picked as the first recipients of the 68 licenses to help boost production and expedite the launch of the recreational market. And in response to questions about its commitment to promoting equity in the legal cannabis industry, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission released a breakdown of the ownership of these firms that are receiving conditional approval.
State officials have been under pressure to open up the recreational market in New Jersey since missing the original Feb. 22 deadline. But the state didn’t begin accepting applications for retail licenses until March 15th. That means it can either wait to sift through those applicants or allow existing medical marijuana companies, which already grow their own cannabis and operate dispensaries, to kick off recreational sales.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy hinted at the end of February that recreational sales could start this month. But that is now unlikely.
So far, eight medical marijuana companies have applied to begin recreational sales. But they don’t currently meet the requirements to do so, according to Jeff Brown, executive director of New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.
At a meeting of the commission Thursday, Brown said that there were a range of concerns, including whether companies would be able to produce enough supply to meet demand from the public while continuing to serve their patients. The commission also expressed concern over whether medical marijuana sellers had a plan in place for ensuring patients could physically access cannabis if dispensaries become too crowded. He said that a few appeared to have enough supply, but that regulators also had questions about whether applicants were meeting other requirements such as establishing labor peace agreements with unions.
“We are confident in our ability to collaborate to fix these issues and work together to get this market off the ground quickly,” Brown said at the meeting.
He added that state officials would work with the eight companies to remedy any issues over the next couple of weeks before reconsidering their applications.
The New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association said in a statement that it was “disappointed” with the decision but optimistic that sales would start sooner than later.
“When it comes down to it, it’s New Jersey’s citizens who are missing out,” the Association said, before adding that, “We continue to look forward to working side-by-side with the CRC to ensure a seamless transition to recreational sales for all parties.”
The first 68 companies
New Jersey still has a long way to go to create enough cannabis supply, Brown said.
“If you look at the best case scenario, our projections show the market is still undersupplied by about 100,000 pounds,” he said at the meeting.
It makes sense then that the state prioritized companies seeking to grow and process marijuana to receive the first crop of recreational licenses.
As of March 17th, the state had received 626 applications for recreational cannabis licenses. Nearly one in three of those applications was to operate a dispensary, even though those retail applications had only opened up two days prior.
Of the first 68 companies approved Thursday, nearly half, 49%, have majority black ownership, while a quarter have majority white ownership, 15% have majority Hispanic ownership and 6% have majority Asian ownership. When considering everyone with a stake in the companies and not just majority owners, the demographics skew a little differently, with 39% white and 28% black.
Charles Barker, a member of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, said at the meeting that people are still encouraged to apply — especially those who have been impacted by the war on drugs or who come from economically disadvantaged areas.
“We are trying to provide the plates and cups and food and drinks and desserts for you to be well fed and nourished, but we need you to come hungry and ready to eat,” Barker said. “Please come and take your seat at the table.”